Welcome to the School Days, Reminiscences series in which my champion bloggers and authors share reminiscences of their school days. It’s my small way of thanking them for their support and of letting you know about their services and publications.
This week, I am pleased to introduce Mabel Kwong, non-fiction writer and blogger. I enjoy reading Mabel’s eponymous blog where she shares her thoughts about life and attitudes in Australia. It is enlightening, and also saddening at times, to read her perspectives. It seems that racism is still alive and a little too well in Australia.
I have great admiration for Mabel and admire her honesty. I think all Australians, and others, would benefit from reading her blog. Perhaps then we’d come to know and understand each other a little better and in turn, be more accepting and respectful.
At the beginning of 2018, I was honoured when Mabel accepted my invitation to write a post for readilearn about her experience of Chinese New Year celebrations. She wrote this lovely post The significance of the Chinese New Year — a guest post by Mabel Kwong. Mabel also generously permitted me to present her information as an ebook Let’s read about Chinese New Year which is available to read free on readilearn.
Before we begin the interview, I’ll allow Mabel to tell you a little of herself:
Mabel Kwong is a non-fiction writer in Melbourne, Australia. Mabel was born in Australia and has spent time living in Singapore and Malaysia. With a keen eye on observing everyday details, she writes about multiculturalism, cultural differences and the writing process. She blogs at MabelKwong.com and shares various perspectives on these topics, encouraging all of us to learn from one other.
In 2017, Mabel published ‘How I Found The Confidence To Chase My Passion’ in the self-help book Lady by the River: A collection of personal stories about persevering through challenging times. Her works on current affairs, lifestyle tips and audience reception have also been published in magazines, online editorials and academic journals. She is currently working on her first book about being Asian Australian and finding the inspiration to pursue one’s passion.
Outside of writing, Mabel is a photographer and enjoys going to gigs, walking, playing video games and watching YouTube.
Now let’s talk school. First, please tell us where you went to school.
Growing up as a third culture kid, I moved around a lot and attended schools in different countries. I went to kindergarten in Australia. Then I did primary school in Malaysia and later in Singapore. Most of my high school education was done in Singapore, and the last year was completed in Melbourne. I attended university in Melbourne.
Did you attend a government, private or independent school?
My education was a mix of government and private schooling.
What is the highest level of education you achieved?
A postgraduate degree.
What work or profession did you choose after school and was there anything in school that influenced this choice?
When I was in high school, I was intent on pursuing a career in the media, aspiring to be a journalist or a writer smithing non-fiction narratives. At university I was keen on developing my written skills and took writing classes in my Bachelor of Arts. I was also very good at maths and ended up majoring in that alongside cultural studies as part of my degree.
What is your earliest memory of school?
I remember my kindergarten days quite vividly. I was about five and went to kindergarten in a quiet eastern suburb in Victoria where the demographic was predominantly white. My classmates were mostly of western background. They came up to me during recess and laughed at my razor straight bangs and avoided sitting with me during lunch.
I also remember back then my kindergarten had a set uniform code. Girls had the choice of dressing up in a green and yellow checkered dress that hit just at the knee or a blouse with long pants. My parents dressed me in the latter most of the time even when it was 30’C because they thought the dress was not modest enough.
What memories do you have of learning to read?
Reading time was something I looked forward to in school. In kindergarten, reading time meant reading aloud. Each time it came to my turn to read, my stuttering voice stumbled over the words. Every time I got stuck at a word my heartbeat raced and my face felt flush. It was a mortifying feeling when the other kids giggled but my teacher was always patient, letting me finish reading aloud at my own pace.
Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl were some of my favourite authors growing up. My parents were encouraging of my reading habit and bought me plenty of books by these authors. As a teenager, I got into reading young adult fiction books based off TV series, including Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Charmed, Sabrina The Teenage Witch and also Archie Comics. Later on in high school, I started reading more non-fiction. My high school classes in Singapore made us read articles from the Reader’s Digest magazine each week. I was always the first to finish reading the required articles in class and went on to read more articles in the magazine.
What memories do you have of learning to write?
When I was eight, every day after primary school in Malaysia I’d write fictional stories about fire-breathing dragons. The words flowed effortlessly. In high school in Singapore I continued this writing streak, and was chuffed when my English teacher read aloud my essays in class as examples of how essays should be written. Later at university in Australia I struggled to write poetry in creative writing classes and my tutors commented my attempts at journalistic news writing were ‘a good start’. Life at university did make me question my ability to be what it takes to be a writer.
What do you remember about math classes?
A love-hate relationship would be how I’d describe me and maths. All throughout school and university, I was good at maths. Studying maths is emphasised a lot in South-East Asian school curriculum and getting less than a B grade meant attending maths remedial classes. While I aced high school maths and aced calculus/fluid dynamics within my Applied Mathematics major at university, I lacked the passion for maths. When I sat down to revise for maths at university, my mind wandered to my cultural studies and journalism classes, planning that next story I wanted to write in my head. That said, from a young age my teachers instilled in me that maths (and science) is important – such as important for calculations, predicting weather patterns and drawing up code to build phone apps.
What was your favourite subject?
English. I’ve always wanted to be a writer and all things grammar and vocabulary appealed to me.
What did you like best about school?
Excursions. Camping trips where my class got to zip down a zip line, outings to the beach to pick up litter and afternoons at old folks’ home were some fond memories of school excursions. Just as there’s much to learn inside the classroom, there’s much more to learn outside.
What did you like least about school?
School is a place where there are rules to adhere to whether you like it or not. I wasn’t a huge fan of wearing compulsory school uniforms where skirts had to be a certain length and in Singapore schools, long hair had to be tied up (in some South-East Asian schools, girls’ hair couldn’t go past their ears). Also my Singapore high school divided the cohort into academic streams – the Express stream learnt at a faster pace and took more advanced subjects while the Normal stream took more technical subjects. Moreover, not everyone got to do the subjects they wanted to do; I wanted to do geography but by luck of the draw I was put into history class.
There’s also not forgetting that my Singapore high school classes started at 7.30am each day. P.E. classes required us to run 2.5km within a certain time or get a low grade. As a night owl and someone who isn’t all that athletic, I don’t miss either of these.
How do you think schools have changed since your school days?
These days there are many options on getting an education especially higher education in Australia. Online and distance learning at our own pace off-campus can be convenient if we work full time. Notably, primary and secondary school fees are in the thousands each year per student and tertiary student loans are on the rise in Australia. While education may be more accessible, it might not be more affordable.
What do you think schools (in general) do well?
Patient and encouraging teachers make learning much more enjoyable.
How do you think schools could be improved?
At times school can be a place where we feel we don’t belong. As Hugh Roberts said in his interview for this series, ‘Nobody should feel afraid to go to school because they are bullied or just because they’re told they are different and don’t fit in.’ There needs to be more focus on bringing awareness towards discrimination, racism and bullying. Having more open discussions in class about different cultures, sexualities, gender, mental illness and disabilities would foster a stronger sense of belonging in school and encourage us to embrace and respect differences early on.
Thank you for sharing your reminiscences of school and thoughts about education in general, Mabel. It’s been wonderful to have you here. I think your suggestions for improving schools are lessons we could all apply throughout life. When we feel like we belong we are more likely to respect and accept others.
Find out more about Mabel Kwong
on her blog: MabelKwong.com
or connect with her on social media
Purchase your own copy of Lady By The River here on Amazon.
If you missed previous reminiscences, check them out here:
Look for future interviews in this series to be posted on Sunday evenings AEST.
Thank you for reading. I appreciate your comments. Please share your thoughts.